Monday, April 14, 2014

Which DSLR Camera should I Get? 5 Tips for Beginners

So, you're thinking to make the big step and get a DSLR? Feeling limited by your compact or phone camera? You're at the right place. I wanna help you make an informative decision that you will not regret. I'm offering you the 5 most important points to consider before you make your decision.

1. Test the camera at the store (or order from an online shop with a 100% money-back policy)
It doesn't matter if you get a Canon or a Nikon (or some other brand). It does matter - a lot - if you get a camera that does not feel right in your own individual hands. Canons have the command dial in a vertical orientation. Nikons have their command dial(s) on a horizontal one. That's a huge thing. Some prefer it one way, others prefer it another. The camera might feel great on screen, as you read a review online, but only when you take it into your own hands you'll know if it's right for you. Forget reviews about megapixels, ISO, dynamic range and all that fluff*. The first thing you should be worried about it, the first true deal-breaker is ergonomics. A perfect sensor and a bright viewfinder are useless if you can't operate the camera comfortably.

*fluff is a bit strong word, but I simply mean that all DSLR cameras, Nikon or Canon, are marvelous for a beginner and a huge improvement over any compact or phone camera.

2. Your first DSLR must be a cheap camera
I don't care how much money you make, it's not about that. But what you should care about, is getting a camera well-suited for your individual needs. Even if you're familiar with photography in general, if this is your first camera, you should get the entry-level model. End of story. Wanna know why? Because this is how you learn properly about photography. You must miss something to understand why you need it. The beginner photographer doesn't need commander mode, doesn't need bracketing (a function utterly meaningless in the post-film era, revived only because of the more-often-than-not hideous HDR mania), doesn't need 51-point 3D AF tracking. The beginner photographer needs a camera with two modes: A, S, and an exposure compensation button. That's it. I'm oversimplifying perhaps, but only to make a point. Get a cheap camera (like all digital gadgets, their value plummets rapidly) - a used one, even better - and put some moderately good glass in front of it. Want a recommendation? Get the D40 and the 35mm AF-S f/1.8. There's a combo that will cost you less than $200 and it is guaranteed to teach you A LOT about photography. For a more balanced approached, opt for a D3100/D3200 and a kit zoom lens (such as the 18-105VR).

Getting your first DSLR is a big deal. Make sure you get the one that is right for you

3. Don't be pressured (by online reviews or sellers) to get a lot at first.
Camera products are made by companies that want to make money - they want to take your money. As a result, they have strategies for making you feel you can have "the better deal" with "just a bit more". Don't be tempted by this. Again, no matter how much money you have, a camera and one lens is all you need at first. Forget packages that include a second lens or a flash. The reason is, these extras are something that a) slows down your progress in learning about photography (the more complexity, the worse when you're a beginner); b) by the time you've learned a bit more about photography and are ready to include other aspects into your technique/style, you'll know that these extras are not exactly cutting-edge. In virtually all cases when an extra flash or lens are offered, they are the most basic external flash (e.g. the SB-400; cannot be part of a CLS system as a master or slave) or a cheap consumer tele lens (e.g. the 55-200 f/4-5.6; also an OK lens, but definitely not what a more advanced photographer has use for). Like with the camera model itself, when you need something else, you'll know it yourself. You certainly don't need it at the beginning.

4. Video? What's that.
This is a tricky point. Current DSLR models have video capability. I am against it. I understand it's a huge selling point, but if you're really, really serious about learning about photography, opt for a bit older model that doesn't have video. If you want video, use your mobile phone. If you want to learn about photography, you don't need a camera model with video capabilities. You might say "well, I don't have to use it". If your camera has it, you will use it, believe me. And then you'll start getting into the bottomless pit of "get this for better sound", "get this for better support", "get this for better light". It's an attractive idea, to become your very own Hollywood videographer. And it has nothing to do with photography...

5. (the most important of them all) Buy a DSLR for the right reasons
Why are you buying a DSLR, by the way? At the beginning of this article I mentioned that you might be feeling limited by your compact camera or phone camera. If that is the case, you also probably know in which way you felt limited (remember point #2: you must miss something in order to understand why you need it). Perhaps you need a camera that allows you fine-tuning of exposure control; or, that it has more responsive autofocus. These are good reasons. Getting a DSLR camera so that you can "start shooting friends' weddings" is the worst possible reason to get a DSLR camera. In fact, I can guarantee you, that your photography will be in fact worse (in terms of results that please you) for the first few days/weeks (this is subjective). It takes time to learn a new piece of equipment. As for taking wedding photos? For goodness's sake, no...Don't be pressured into believing a DSLR camera magically makes you suitable for that. A pro with a mobile phone camera can and will take better photos than a beginner with an expensive DSLR.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Fretting over the rumored Nikon D9300/D400? Read this

Dear Amateur Nikon,

I decided to write you this message after I read the article over at about the upcoming D9300 (the long-awaited D400 - D300s replacement). No, actually, I decided to write this message after I read the user comments regarding this upcoming Nikon model. I'm sure you must've read the article yourself, and perhaps the comments too, so you know what I'm referring to.

Well, I'm not very good with words, but I feel I have to express myself somehow. I am a student of environmental engineering, working part-time as a waiter. I don't have much money. In fact, I barely make ends meet every month. But I love photography. I have a Nikon D40 and the 18-55 that came with it - both bought used about two years ago. I've been dreaming about new camera and a new lens - not even sure why, I guess because I was "supposed to". But I just can't afford anything right now, not for the next couple of years at the very least. In fact, many times I came close to selling what I have - the only thing that stopped me was that the little money I would get off that would disappear instantly - and I'd be without a camera.

Well, anyway, I was talking about the comments... People fighting over the rumored camera name. People fighting over its video specs..The immaturity of the comments shocked me. "Either it's 4k video or goodbye Nikon"...."Too little too late, I'm sticking with my D800 and my D4"..I just couldn't believe my eyes, these were people who had equipment worth $10.000 (and more, considering what kinds of lenses they surely own) and they were fighting like kids at the kindergarten over whose toy truck is better-looking. These must be grown men and women, with important jobs, and families.

I feel so much better, I must tell you. Reading those comments made me realize how lucky I am not to be able to even think about a new camera. This way I can focus on my technique. Sure, a 35mm f/1.8 would be great - and maybe I can get it at some point - but I can get great photos as it is, I don't need anything else right now. I'm 21 years old, but I've seen enough life to know what's worth worrying about and what's not. Worrying over a camera's 4k video is NOT one of my priorities.

Anyway, sorry about the long comment and my English - my native language is Russian. You don't have to publish my comment, it'd be enough if you read it. And keep up the good work. I like your no-nonsense approach to photography.


(Edited for length and language)

Dear Maxim,
I did something better than simply publishing your comment: I turned it into today's article. It made a heck of a lot of sense to me, and I'm sure plenty of people can relate to your story. Thank you for your kind words, and keep taking photos that you enjoy - it's not about the camera or the lens, it's about the person behind them.

Here's a photo taken with my 18-55 and a $5 slave flash. You really don't need much money to get great photos. You need vision.